Monday, June 21, 2010

Medical Controversy: Why Haven't We Beaten Cancer Yet?

In 1971 President Nixon initiated what was called The War on Cancer. The hope was that with more research the cause and cure for cancer would soon be discovered. Almost 40 years later the war is still being fought. Why haven't we beaten cancer?

War against cancer has more than one target in the Washington Post gives an overview.  Cancer is more complicated than we thought. Dr. David Gorski gives a more detailed look into the problem in The complexity of cancer: a science based view.

Dr. Gorski's article gives an overview of some of the talks at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). At times Dr. Gorski gets into technical details but don't let that deter you. There are a few take home lessons. One is how complex the problems really are. There aren't necessarily simple and easy answers. He specifically points out the difference between science's approach to the problem and the easy (and wrong) answers given by quacks and practitioners of unscientific medicine. So much of what's peddled as miracle treatments and simple approaches is just plain wrong. What may sound good at first may not actually make much sense when looked at in detail. For example he writes:
Dr. Coussens’ talk is fascinating for what it revealed about the immune system and cancer. How many times have you heard “alternative medicine” believers and promoters brag that this nostrum or that potion “boosts the immune system”? As we’ve said before here, it’s a meaningless claim, because sometimes boosting the immune system is bad, as in autoimmune diseases. In cancer, it’s long been known that inflammation, particularly chronic inflammation, can lead to cancer.
There has been great advances in cancer treatment over the last 40 years. Our understanding of cancer has grown as well. For all the advances and new knowledge it now looks like the war on cancer will not be over soon.

1 comment:

Dr Ian Clements said...

I am only going on your comments, rather than Dr Coussens.

There are several things wrong with this. Firstly, orthodox medicine makes similar misleading claims as CAM - but generally with far worse side-effects.

Secondly, if orthodox cancer has improved so much, why are more people getting cancer and dieing of it?

Yes, perhaps boosting the immune system may not always be good (tho; one can say that even more about chemo, radiation and surgery), by and large enhancing the immune system is helpful. Hence the huge increase attention to anti-cancer vaccines, which are inherently immune-boosting.

As to 'great advances in cancer treatment', see above. Many cancer survival rates are worse (bladder cancer, for instance); only a few rarer cancers have longer survival rates; and much increased survival rates are often due to earlier diagnosis rather than better treatments anyway.

There is much wrong with cancer research, not least that any new treatment takes decades to see whether there is an improvement. And if not, tough; but if there is, the alternatives meanwhile have continued wrongly. And during all this time most cancer sufferers have died (the average time between diagnosis and death is less than 5 years).

"There aren't necessarily simple and easy answers." There are well documented, but otherwise inexplicable, successes following simple treatments - at least as good as those of the orthodox treatments.

I could go on (such as there are many cases of spontaneous remissions which are never investigated) about the purblindedness of the orthodox medical profession, hostile to anything from without.